Dear Dr. Debbie,
School has been closed for a week and my daughter whines when I tell her I’m leaving for work. (She’s whined about this before, but this has escalated with the closing of school.)
Then when I get home from work she asks if I’ve brought her anything, often mentioning specific items she wants from toy stores. In the past my disregarded answer about why I go to work has been about having to earn the money to buy the things the family needs. I don’t have a good answer about not bringing her something every time I come home. Since my office will be closed, effective immediately, things are about to be very different for our family. I’ll be home, yes, but much more mindful about not spending money. What can I do with this time at home to shape better values in my child? She’s six-years-old.
Work Horse Stuck in the Barn
Family life has been drastically altered due to the pandemic. Health issues aside, it may seem there is plenty to worry about and little that we know for sure. Your family’s income has been affected which naturally leads to a tightening of the budget. Family time is now all the time. Every student is a home schooler. Everyone is cut off from social interactions with the people with whom they usually spend time away from home. We are re-evaluating the use of Screen Time and Social Media for adults and children alike.
A Child’s Economy
A child’s value system is very different from an adult’s.
Things of worth to a child are more likely to be related to immediate needs, providing gratification in the here and now. When she watches a toy reviewer on YouTube squealing in delight while playing with a new product, she has a pressing desire to do the same. She needs it because it’s right in front of her, teasing her for her lack of the toy. This discomfort is barely bearable. Until she sees the next glitzy product on the screen.
But she also wants you, particularly if she thinks you’re leaving her to pay attention to someone or something besides her. You provide a real connection to her past, present, and future. You’ve known her longer than anyone. You provide for her every need, even when you are not with her, including the need to have someone care deeply about her. You are constantly referring to her future: “So you can grow big and strong!” “You can do that when you’re older.” “This is important to learn now for later.” She has a relationship with you that helps to define who she is and who she is becoming.
The Gift of Time
An adult operates within an economic system of dollars and cents. A working parent also knows that, “Time is money.”
But you have many other values that you can share with your child during this newfound time with each other. Your daughter will learn your respect for animal life when you move a turtle off the road when you’re out on a walk together. She learns your appreciation of beauty when you stop to admire a beautifully painted birdhouse. She catches the change in your voice when you tell her how your grandmother taught you the poem about ladybugs so long ago. Family history also comes into your cooking lessons, now that you have the time to work as a team in the kitchen. (This is also a great time to make use of what you already have in the pantry!)
You have time now to teach your daughter tasks to promote her self-sufficiency. Even if you do most of the job, slow down to show her how to: sew on a button, tighten a screw, sort the laundry, replace a battery, and address an envelope.
Think of other values you can share with your daughter. The value of friendship is honored when you help her write to a friend that she misses. The value of a good story is learned when you read and discuss her storybooks with her, or when you watch and listen to a story from Maryland’s Digital Library together. Stories themselves have values in them, such as how to deal with challenges and how to treat other people. Carry this further with acting out stories together with dolls and puppets or simple dress ups.
You can share the value of curiosity and research with her by exploring the wide world on the internet. “What do foxes sound like?” “How many different butterflies are there?” “What makes the seasons change?” Find experiments you can do at home to pique her curiosity. Then see where her imagination leads to invent her own experiments.
Savor the upside of this National Emergency. Use time in nature, time to sharpen skills, time to be creative and curious, and time to find out what gratifies your daughter (that doesn’t cost any money!) while you have the opportunity. Spending time with your child gives her more of you, and you more of her. This is something you can both hold onto when you eventually go back to work.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: drdebbiewood.com.
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com
Here are some virtual things for the kids to enjoy and chase away the stuck at home blues.